Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Iraq Christians Face Ethnic Cleansing

Not long after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, Donny George, an Iraqi Christian whose family had lived in the region for thousands of years, received a death threat in an envelope containing a Kalashnikov bullet. The letter accused George of working for the Americans and said his youngest son had disrespected Islam. George quickly arranged to send most of his family to Damascus, Syria, but he stayed behind to work at the Iraqi National Museum, becoming chairman of the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage in 2005.

Within a year, though, he too decided to flee — first to Damascus, and eventually to the USA.
"I was told by some people in the same ministry that … such an important institution should not be headed by a Christian," George told the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom last year.

Many Iraqi Christians have suffered far worse fates. As documented by the U.S. State Department, Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq have endured extensive persecution since 2003, including the murder of their religious leaders, threats of violence or death if they do not abandon their homes and businesses, and the bombing or destruction of their churches and other places of worship. According to one Iraqi Christian leader, half of Iraq's Christians have fled the nation since 2003, and some have likened the situation to ethnic cleansing.

Getting worse?
In fact, the status of religious freedom in Iraq is in some ways worse today than it was under Saddam Hussein, according to independent analyses of the State Department's religious freedom reports. While the level of official government restrictions on religious freedom slightly decreased from 2001 to 2007, the level of non-governmental or social restrictions — including sectarian violence, ostracism and abuse — steadily increased from 2003 to 2005 and remained at an alarmingly high level in 2007, the most recent year for which data are available.

This is clearly not what U.S. policy leaders intended when the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003.
It is no small irony, of course, that the Shiite majority that's now a leading force in Iraq was brutalized and suppressed under Saddam, who extensively curbed the Shiites' religious freedoms. A State Department report in 2002 said Saddam's government "severely restricts or bans outright many Shiite religious practices."One might think that those fresh memories would be enough to ensure liberties for Iraq's religious minorities today. Yet that appears not to be the case.

Before the invasion, more than 740,000 Christians lived in Iraq, or about 3% of the country's population, according to the World Christian Encyclopedia. In comparative terms, this means that proportionally there were about as many Christians in Iraq as there are Jews, Muslims and Hindus combined in the USA, according to a recent survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, a project of the Pew Research Center.

Iraqi Christians are part of historic indigenous communities that have been in what is now Iraq nearly since the time of Christ, several centuries before Islam came to the region. The majority of them are Chaldean Christians, an ancient religious group affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church.

The full USA Today report is here.

1 comment:

Alice C. Linsley said...

Gracias, Amy. Mucho gusto conocerte por la Red. Lei las noticias en tu blog sobre el viaje a Guatemala.